Elderly still struggling with Internet skills

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As more facets of American life move online, an increasing number of people are learning the skills they need to keep up, including older adults.

A survey released this month by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project said that for the first time, more than half of adults age 65 and older are online. The survey said 53 percent of American adults age 65 and older use the Internet or email, and 70 percent of seniors use the Internet on a typical day.

After age 75, however, Internet use drops off significantly; only 34 percent of U.S. adults 75 or older have adopted the Internet, meaning some people are still getting left behind, especially older job seekers.

When UPMC announced it had to fill nearly 400 new jobs at its soon-to-open Monroeville hospital, thousands flocked to a January job fair hoping to land a position. Those who couldn't attend the job fair were pointed to UPMC's website.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit hospital system directed community members to register online for an open house in advance of the July 2 opening of UPMC East.

Both times, a reporter received phone calls from job seekers and Monroeville-area residents who lacked either the equipment or the skills to get online and apply for a job or register for the open house. On both occasions, UPMC representatives provided the reporter with phone numbers to give to callers and said online applications and registrations are necessary because of the "sheer numbers" of people interested in jobs and other UPMC events.

The online-only approach is by no means unique to UPMC, and the majority of the people who walk into the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Job and Career Education Center in Oakland are more than 40 years old and seeking help with online job applications.

"It is essentially what we're here to do," said Wes Roberts, manager of the library's personal computer center.

He said few companies offer paper applications, and a lot of older job seekers have to learn computer skills from scratch.

"There's no denying that is one of the major trends of the workforce today," he said.

UPMC recognizes that, according to Shannon Williams, UPMC's program director of community workforce development. She said UPMC works with about 25 Pittsburgh-area career-development nonprofits to help people who lack computer skills or face other difficulties find jobs at UPMC.

"It can be a daunting experience for someone who is not that computer savvy," she said of the application process.

Carnegie Library offers free classes on basic Internet skills and introductions to Microsoft Office as well as one-on-one appointments with a library staffer who will help a person write a resume, complete an application online or assist in setting up an email account.

Though some seek help at places like the library, there are still Internet holdouts.

This includes Monroeville resident Charles Koenig, 87, who called a reporter earlier this month and joked that he had only two tin cans connected by string and would be unable to register online for the UPMC tour. The reporter registered him for the tour and he said he had no trouble once he got to UPMC East -- they asked for his last name, verified his first name, and let him go on the tour.

Mr. Koenig said he saw several news stories and ads about the UPMC East tour with no phone number listed, though most organizations list both a website and a phone number, which he encourages.

Mark Simon, UPMC's assistant director of talent acquisition, said UPMC sometimes lists phone numbers in advertisements, but the website is the best way to convey up-to-date information.

"It's tough with an organization the size of ours," he said.

Mr. Koenig said he recognizes computers are great communicators.

"It is very interesting how much information you can get with a computer, but I do not have one and probably will never have one, because of my age," he said.

But that means people like him might miss out on things.

"They're kind of left out in the cold, then," Mr. Roberts said of people without computer skills. "You really need to build these skills."

He says between five and 10 people seeking online help come into the Oakland branch daily and staff is always available to help. Library staff won't fill out applications for them, he said, but they'll offer "gentle guidance" and help them get through the application.

In addition to working with career-development centers, UPMC keeps computer kiosks in its Human Resources departments so those without computers can fill out applications there. Mr. Simon said that between 1,200 and 1,500 jobs with UPMC are open at any time.

UPMC also held an event called Careers in Your Community last month at Bakery Square in Larimer, where they provided paper applications for job seekers, something they hadn't often done since the organization moved its application process online more than five years ago.

Gloria Kreps, UPMC's director of media relations, said that event included "some hand holding."

"We're coming to you," she said. "You don't have to make it Downtown or to a library."

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Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert. First Published June 21, 2012 5:15 AM


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